pprntubWe have to hand it to this team, their entry for the 2020 Hackaday Prize is a classic pincer maneuver. A team from [The University of Auckland] in New Zealand and [New Dexterity] is designing a couple of gloves for both rehabilitation and human augmentation. One style is a human-powered prosthetic for someone who has lost mobility in their hand. The other form uses soft robotics and Bluetooth control to move the thumb, fingers, and an extra thumb (!).
pprntubThe human-powered exoskeleton places the user’s hand inside a cabled glove. When they are in place, they arch their shoulders and tighten an artificial tendon across their back, which pulls their hand close. To pull the fingers evenly, there is a differential box which ensures pressure goes where it is needed, naturally. Once they’ve gripped firmly, the cables stay locked, and they can relax their shoulders. Another big stretch and the cords relax.
In the soft-robotic model, a glove is covered in inflatable bladders. One set spreads the fingers, a vital physical therapy movement. Another bladder acts as a second thumb for keeping objects centered in the palm. A cable system draws the fingers closed like the previous glove, but to lock them they evacuate air from the bladders, so jamming layers retain their shape, like food in a vacuum bag.
You could say 2020 is The Year That Didn’t Happen, or perhaps even The Year That Everything Happened Online. All the international cons and camps have been cancelled, and we’ve spent our time instead seeing our friends in Jitsi, or Zoom.
But there was one camp that wasn’t cancelled. The yearly Danish hacker camp BornHack has gone ahead this year with significantly reduced numbers and amid social distancing, turning it from what is normally one of the smaller and more intimate events into the only real-world event of 2020.
I bought my ticket early in the year and long before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, so on a sunny day in August I found myself in my car with my friend Dani from FizzPop hackerspace in Birmingham taking the ferry for the long drive through the Netherlands and Germany to Denmark.
Once limited to multi-million dollar machines on the floors of cavernous factories, CNC technology has moved so far downscale in terms of machine size that it’s often easy to lose track of where it pops up. Everything from 3D-printers to laser engravers use computer numeric control to move a tool to some point in three-dimensional space, and do it with unmatched precision and reproducibility.
CNC has gotten so pervasive that chances are pretty good that there’s a CNC machine of some sort pretty close to everyone reading this, with many of those machines being homebrew designs. That’s the backstory of Pocket NC, a company that was literally started in a one-bedroom apartment in 2011 by Matt and Michelle Hertel. After a successful Kickstarter that delivered 100 of their flagship five-axis desktop CNC mills to backers, they geared up for production and now turn out affordable machine tools for the masses. We’ve even seen some very complex parts made on these mills show up in projects we’ve featured.
For this Hack Chat, we’ll be joined by Pocket NC CTO and co-founder Matt Hertel and John Allwine, who recently joined the company as Principal Software Engineer. We’ll discuss not only Pocket NC’s success and future plans, but the desktop CNC landscape in general. Drop by with your questions regarding both the hardware and the software side of CNC, about turning an idea into a business, and where the CNC world and next-generation manufacturing will be heading in the future.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
A major snag with using the Raspberry Pi as a PLC is the lack of industrial I/O capacity. This requires additional hardware, in this case adding a four-channel ADC board as well as a custom board to condition the signals. The Raspberry Pi looks for 0-3 V inputs where industrial control applications are usually in the -10 to 10 V range and often use a 4-20 mA current loop.
Using a PLC leverages so-called ladder logic, where each action depends on conditions. With each update scan, the PLC ensures that all input conditions are translated into the appropriate output conditions in real-time. It’s only job is to monitor the process at hand and it does this very well.
Here the flexibility and generic nature of the Raspberry Pi running Linux was a disadvantage. Unlike the PLC, the lack of a hard real-time OS means you can’t guarantee the Pi will be as responsive to changing inputs.
The behavior of the two systems showed that while both did the task they were programmed for, the Raspberry Pi was decidedly more erratic. Although one could program around a lot of these issues (presumably using Linux in stripped-down, soft real-time configuration with interrupt-driven native code), the effort needed to make a Raspberry Pi system suitable for an industrial environment shows why single-board computers haven’t seen adoption as replacements for PLCs.
In the early morning hours of April August 10th, a support cable at the Arecibo Observatory pulled lose from its mount and crashed through the face of the primary reflector below. Images taken from below the iconic 305 meter dish, made famous by films such as Contact and GoldenEye, show an incredible amount of damage. The section of thick cable, estimated to weigh in at around 6,000 kilograms (13,000 pounds), had little difficulty tearing through the reflector’s thin mesh construction.
Worse still, the cable also struck the so-called “Gregorian dome”, the structure suspended over the dish where the sensitive instruments are mounted. At the time of this writing it’s still unclear as to whether or not any of that instrumentation has been damaged, though NASA at least has said that the equipment they operate inside the dome appears to have survived unscathed. At the very least, the damage to the dome structure itself will need to be addressed before the Observatory can resume normal operations.
But how long will the repairs take, and who’s going to pay for them? It’s no secret that funding for the 60 year old telescope has been difficult to come by since at least the early 2000s. The cost of repairing the relatively minor damage to the telescope sustained during Hurricane Maria in 2017 may have been enough to shutter the installation permanently if it hadn’t been for a consortium led by the University of Central Florida. They agreed to share the burden of operating the Observatory with the National Science Foundation and put up several million dollars of additional funding.
It’s far too early to know how much time and money it will take to get Arecibo Observatory back up to operational status, but with the current world situation, it seems likely the telescope will be out of commission for at least the rest of the year. Given the fact that repairs from the 2017 damage still haven’t been completed, perhaps even longer than that. In the meantime, astronomers around the globe are left without this wholly unique resource.
You can sense the frustration with some Linux configuration issues, but [saveitforparts] admits he isn’t a Linux or Raspberry Pi guru. Version 1 seemed to be a bit of a prototype, but version 2 is more polished. We still aren’t sure we’d see Spock carrying a case like that, but some 3D printing could spiff that right up.
Of course, a real tricorder is a McGuffin that does whatever the plot calls for. This one is a bit more practical, but it can monitor thermal and RF energy and could accommodate more sensors. This is a great example of a project that would have been very hard to do in the past but is much easier today. The availability of cheap computers and ready-made modules along with associated software open up many possibilities.
If you want to do your own Tricorder hacking you could take over a commercial model. Then again, there’s an official replica on its way that seems like it might have some similar features.
We pride ourselves on knowing the proper terms for everyday things: aglet, glabella, borborygmi, ampersands. But we have to confess to never having heard of a “fipple” before finding this interesting MIDI-controlled slide whistle, where we learned that the mouthpiece of a penny whistle or a recorder is known as a fipple. The more you know.
This lesson comes to us by way of a Twitter post by [The Mixed SIgnal], which showed off the finished mechanism in a short video and not much else. We couldn’t leave that alone, so we reached out for more information and were happy to find that [The Mixed SIgnal] quickly posted a build log on Hackaday.io as well as the build video below.
The slide whistle is a homebrew version of the kind we’ve all probably annoyed our parents with at one time or another, with a 3D-printed fipple (!) and piston, both of which go into a PVC tube. Air is supplied to the pipe with a small centrifugal blower, while a 3D-printed rack and pinion gear of unusual proportions moves the piston back and forth. An Arduino Due with a CNC shield controls the single stepper motor. The crude glissandos of this primitive wind instrument honestly are a little on the quiet side, especially given the racket the stepper and rack and pinion make when queuing up a new note. Perhaps it needs more fipple.